The first panel was led by Linda Greenhouse who used to report on the Supreme Court for the New York Times. It included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judge Nancy Gertner and Judge Sandra Lynch. We all stood and applauded as she walked in and I and at least a few of those around me were all surprised at how well she seemed. She is tiny but had no problems walking and negotiating the stairs unaided. She had surgery 5 weeks ago and will be 76 on Sunday.
Greenhouse commented that she was surprised that Ginsburg attended the State of the Union message and commented that in another interview she said that she did it "because I wanted the country to see that there's a woman on the Supreme Court." That seems to be a paraphrasing of this.
It was an interesting overview of the field which I hadn't known much about. Greenhouse's introduction set the stage very nicely by pointing out that three of them were all within months of each other in age and basically had Ginsburg to thank for paving the way for them. I knew she had done some gender discrimination cases, but I hadn't realized that she basically created the field in the seventies, much as Brown v. Board of Education had done for civil rights cases.
She went to Harvard Law School in the fifties where she was one of nine women in a class of over 500. She left after two years and finished at Columbia because her husband got a good job in New York. Harvard wouldn't let her do her third year at Columbia and then get a Harvard degree and if I understood it correctly, they would have had she been a man.
She mentioned a case but I don't know the name, I think it was from 1961. It was set in Florida where the law did not require women to serve on juries. They could volunteer, but of course few did. A Florida woman was on trial for murder of her abusive philandering husband and was convicted by an all male jury. She argued she wanted a juror of her peers that might understand her frame of mind. Ginsburg found the FL law objectionable because it said women weren't important enough to have to perform this duty of citizenship.
In the seventies she founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU and worked on several seminal cases. One of the panelists said "We would not have Title VII or Title IX without Ruth Bader Ginsburg."
I have a few cases I want to read about:
Reed v. Reed (1971) - unanimously overturned the Idaho Probate Court specification that "males must be preferred to females" in appointing administrators of estates.
Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) - changed military benefits so that could not be different based on gender. This was the first case Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court and apparently her performance was brilliant.
Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975) - Overturned a clause in Social Security law. Women could only get benefits for themselves not their family. This case was a widower who couldn't get benefits for his child, no one was going to vote against it.
She mentioned a case they never managed to bring to court as it became moot. During Vietnam, an Air Force Captain (Susan Strut?) became pregnant and told her commanding officer. He gave her two choices, leave the air force or get an abortion (which would have been provided by the base as was apparently common practice). She didn't want to leave the Air Force as it was her career, was Roman Catholic and didn't want an abortion, and had arranged for adoption at birth. I've forgotten why it became moot, but imagine a government forced abortion coming to trial today?
It turns out that most of the sex discrimination cases rely on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the state can not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This was a post civil war amendment and the framers clearly were applying it to issues of race. It was not for gender reasons as there were many discriminatory gender laws on the books at the time. But they used the word person, and can we now interpret it more broadly/ This is the liberal vs originalist argument. She explicitly said she thought the framers intended it to grow beyond race and while it didn't sound like just her viewpoint, she didn't cite any evidence for this view.
It was a very interesting discussion. The ACLU has this article on some of these topics, Tribute: The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and WRP Staff.
Afterwards was a panel on gender and education. The main case cited was the 1996 VMI case, United States v. Virginia. Apparently there's a movement in the country to allow public schools to offer single sex classes (or even schools). There are supposedly some benefits of this an a few examples of schools having great success in helping troubled students by moving them to single gender classes. However, Emily Martin of the Women's Rights Project of the ACLU listed many examples of discrimination and listed two primary instigators of such programs as Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian. She said they say some reasonable things but listed many crazy sounding differences between the genders that supported quite different teaching methods. One was that girls hearing is 10 times better than boys, so a male teacher speaking in a normal voice sounds as if they are shouting at them, and since boys hearing is bad, teachers should speak louder to them to be heard. There were more differences about math ability, etc. She made them come off as the Intelligent Designers of single sex education.
I had a difficult time understanding the issue as it seemed clear cut to me. Brown v. Board of Ed had found separate is inherently unequal. For public schools it seems they should be co-ed. Private schools can of course do what they want. I wouldn't be allow to start a company and hire only a single gender because it would make management techniques easier. I didn't get to ask any questions but a law professor sitting next to me explained that while this might be true in the broad sense, when you get to the legal details and connecting the dots it wasn't as clear cut. Also employment law is different from education law which is clearly true. Like software, it seems lots of laws have bugs too.
Questions were submitted on index cards and the moderator collected them and asked the panel. Apparently 8 people asked about transgendered K-12 students. This was in Cambridge after all. The answer was that most single sex school advocates pretend they don't exist.